“Ah! Bummer!” Tric sees his cousin disarmed in only her second duel. The fellow to whom she lost helps her off the field, and a little while later he returns to finish his bouts. When the event wraps up, Tric realizes it is approaching the time that Heppa told him Serces said they could meet with Mhaev. Since his cousin was injured in her duel, he meanders over to the Tent of Light to look for her. He finds her, but it is the classic Heppa scene of her asking someone a pile of questions. The other person seems to be engaged, and everyone is having an enjoyable time. To him, it all sounds like, “Magic, magic, magic. Medicine, medicine. Magic, magic!” He knows how interested Heppa is in these topics, so he decides to not disrupt her and heads by himself toward the meeting location.
Along the way, he encounters the woman in plate armor from Sir Owaec’s group. She is down on the ground now, leading her large black horse by the reins, and her visor is flipped up. “Thanks for the help earlier,” he tells her cheerfully. “I didn’t account for how curved armor is. But it is still, I think, a shot everyone will remember.”
“Did you actually think that would help you shoot better? Looking away from the target?” she asks.
“I thought it would surely be more interesting. And if I hit that shot…” The woman remarks on the other competitor exploding afterwards, and Tric insists that he and Yrogin are cool with each other. “He was understandably a little upset, but I think we all agree that the master bowman really was the best archer as far as this type of archery goes.”
“Are you in any of the other competitions?” the young woman asks.
“Oh, no, I don’t think that would be fair.”
“You will not be participating in the grand melee?” She sounds almost shocked, but then she looks him up and down and realizes he has no sword.
Tric pulls out the Serces-forged knife he has had his whole life and casually flips it a few times in his right hand. “Not so much. I’m more of a brawling sort, if that’s what I have to do.” She asks if he will at least watch these other events, and he says, “Yeah, probably. I assume you’re going to be in the joust, right? Are you in the grand melee as well?” She states that she will be in both, and at this point, Tric realizes he does not even know her name. He introduces himself as Tric Manu, and she gives her name as Terwaen. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, as well,” she replies. “If you will be there, would you mind bearing my favor? I do not know many people in this town, and it would do me much good to have support in the field.”
Tric does not really know what she means, but it does not sound bad. “Suuuuure… Yeah, I don’t see why not,” he agrees. She hands him a strip of cloth. It is the same deep blue as Sir Owaec’s pennants, but has three wavy lines embroidered diagonally across it in silver. It is evocative of water to Tric. “Fancy business,” he murmurs as he looks it over. Tric concludes this is just like him giving out his ribbons to show that people are friends of elves. He ties it around his upper arm. “Are you from a place with a river?” he asks.
“Our lands are bordered by the River Weldyn and the Great River.” It seems like Tric has found water after all. Take that, Dad! he thinks. Terwaen reaches over and draws the ribbon out so she can look at it again herself and comments, “When I chose the pattern, I thought it also might be evocative of rolling sand.”
“Have you been to the Sandy Wastes?” he asks.
“No,” she says a little wistfully, releasing the favor to hang alongside Tric’s arm. “No, I have never been there myself. Maybe someday.”
“It’s a well-earned name. Very sandy,” Tric says knowingly.
Terwaen perks up. “Oh! Have you been there then?”
“Well…” It is so tempting to Tric to make up details, as clearly this listener does not have experience with the topic to be able to correct him. “I can’t say that I’ve been across the Sandy Wastes,” he says obliquely. “Who knows what’s on the other side?”
“Well, presumably the Dunefolk,” Terwaen states plainly.
“Presumably,” Tric agrees. “It is a great expanse. As you observed there,” he gestures at the favor, “not so very different from a great ocean of sand.” Not that Tric has ever seen an ocean either… “But we have no boat to cross the ocean of sand.”
“So how do you travel it, then?”
“You’ve got to walk, and, well… you can only swim so far.” Tric is working hard to keep this analogy going, but it is rather leaky.
“Do you not have horses?”
“Well…” The elves have ponies, but that does not sound impressive. Tric searches around for something that sounds better. “We have elegant steeds…”
At this point Terwaen throws up her arms. They clang as they come down. “You’ve never been there! You’re just telling me your parents’ stories!” Tric denies this, but she accuses, “You’re as clueless about the desert as I am.”
“I live next to the desert, okay? Where it is considerably drier than it is here.”
“Well, shame on you then, if you are right next to it, that you have never gone and explored where we came from.”
“I didn’t come from there,” Tric protests.
“With a name like yours, you must be one of my kinsfolk,” Terwaen insists.
He did introduce himself as Tric Manu. “Probably,” he grants. Then he raises his headband a little to show his ears. “However, I grew up in the forest. So yes, if I had grown up in the plains by the river, I might long for the sand. But I grew up surrounded by trees. Wherever there are leaves and roots, you are in the forest. It is a wonderful place. I highly recommend a visit.”
“I would think it would be too crowded for my steed, though. So packed with trunks as it is.”
“Somehow our elvish riders are able to speed through the forest as fast as you can through the plains. Now, our horses are a bit smaller, and it is a different kind of riding, I suspect.” Tric himself has been whacked off a pony by an errant branch a time or two in Estbryn Forest. “You have to know the paths to take. Much like, if you’re in the Sandy Wastes, you have to make sure not to get caught in quicksand. Water might be rare, but where it does occur, it could be treacherous.”
“More of your stories,” Terwaen says with a grin.
“When all you have are stories…” Tric shrugs and sighs. “Forgive me, I have only recently met some of my other kinsfolk. You’re from the Northern Outpost, then? Or further west?”
“I am from the Horse Plains.”
Of course, Tric thinks. She would be an excellent source of information on horse lords, details that he can twist into his Master Edward routine. “Have you met Alric in town?” he asks. This woman seems a bit younger than the barkeep, though Tric is mainly judging from her manner and face, since most of her is still obscured by platemail. “Or maybe you know Serces. He’s a blacksmith; he makes horseshoes.” Terwaen indicates she knows the latter, and Tric continues to talk unnecessarily. “He’s a super cool guy… Is this your own horse? Or is it owned by Wesnoth and you ride it for them?” Terwaen tells Tric that Gloam has been her stallion since her father deemed her old enough to deserve one. That is, to show that she could handle one properly, treating it and riding it well. “Have you been riding your whole life?” Tric then asks. “Were you actually born in the saddle?”
Terwaen laughs at this jocular fellow. “I must admit, I do not recall that day terribly well. I have been riding longer than I have been able to walk. My father made sure that I became comfortable in the saddle quite early in life.”
“So your people are of the Horse Clans? Your people now?”
“Yes. I hope someday to myself be bestowed the rank of horse lord by Sir Owaec or whoever follows him as leader of our clan.” Tric is not really clear on the organization structures of the Horse Clans, and Terwaen clarifies it for him. There are many small clans that make up the Horse Clans, though some clans have more authority than others. Sir Owaec is the leader of Terwaen’s particular clan, but he is also the most recognized clan leader in a first among equals sort of way. There is no singular leader of the horse lords, and all, of course, bow to Konrad II.
“But Konrad needs them more than they need the king?” Tric asks. That seems to be what her tone implies.
“It is true. Our people did restore order to the borders of his territory after the great war. It was Sir Owaec who was called upon to go around the country for that purpose.”
It seems that this woman knows a thing or two about all the fighting thirty years ago, so Tric tries to get more details from her for his own stories. “Who was it who struck down Mal-Ravanal?” he asks. “I’m trying to remember…” But of course, he does not want to appear like he never knew.
“There are many who claim that it was they.”
Tric nods. “I’m sure every horse lord over the age of thirty-five claims,”—he puffs up his chest and his voice grows self-important—“I was at the great battle and stabbed through the bitter cold heart of Mal-Ravanal myself.”
“The stories told around our fires are that Gweddry met Mal-Ravanal in a duel and defeated him,” Terwaen says. At Tric’s surprised look, she continues, “Sir Owaec led the forces to distract the lich’s—”
“Sir Owaec plowed a line straight to Mal-Ravanal,” Tric dresses it up. This is news to Tric, that Gweddry dueled a lich, but Owaec’s role must have been significant. “Thus letting Gweddry reach his duel…”
“And keeping the rest of the forces at bay.”
“Oh, wow, that is a good story! I’ve got to remember that one. Do you know where this fight took place?” Tric asks. Terwaen tells him it was at the Siege of Weldyn. She has been to that city a time or two in Sir Owaec’s train. “Do you mind if I ask… Have you seen combat yourself?”
Terwaen laughs lightly. “Of course!” she answers cheerfully.
Tric feels like he must be missing something. “I live in the forest,” he reminds her. “We don’t get a lot of news from outside.”
“Lest you think everything among the Horse Clans is completely peaceful, there is an awful lot of scraping and jockeying for position among the clans. Martial prowess is extremely important.”
“So there’s a constant state of violence?”
“We’re not orcs,” Terwaen says, “but you must meet a challenge, and you must show yourself worthy.” When Tric asks about undead, she says there have been none in the Horse Plains in her lifetime, and she has never personally fought any.
Tric picks up on something Terwaen mentioned earlier. “So… Sir Owaec has done some amazing things. He’s got a family… maybe here or in the Northern Outpost? Are they looking to continue his legacy?”
Terwaen clarifies that the Northern Outpost was Owaec’s assignment at the time of the war, but following the war he was made Knight Commander of the King’s Horse. This is a title that no horse lord has ever had before. There is no precedent for whether it will be passed on to his children or not.
“That’s not a title that comes with land?”
“No, Earl Gweddry is the one who got that. Earl Gweddry was made Earl of all Estmark.”
“I notice he seems to be doing well,” Tric observes.
“Yes, but there are those who might say that while Owaec was out ensuring the safety of the country’s borders, Gweddry was given a comfortable seat.”
“Oh really?” Finally, some marginally rebellious sentiments! Tric thinks. He would love to have her continue, but this conversation has already delayed him from his appointment. On the other hand, he needs to tell his mother about the rebels there, and any information Terwaen provides could be helpful with that… He cannot just invite her to come along, as she could be in Merriver’s camp. He waffles back and forth a bit, then tells her, “I would love to hear more about horse lords sometime, but I have a very important meeting to go to, believe it or not.” He chuckles nervously, and Mate chooses that moment to butt in.
“Stupid, stupid!” There is a fluttering of black and white feathers, and the magpie lands on his shoulder.
“I also have a stupid bird, you may have noticed. I do apologize for him.” Tric pulls out a piece of trail rations and offers it to the bird, who snaps it up. “You should swing by the Parting Glass. I’d be glad to meet up there tonight and hear more of the horse lords.” Aside from the whole treasonous Merriver plot, this is a very different and interesting culture that Tric wants to learn about, both for his Master Edward story and for his own edification.
“Yes, I would be happy to meet you later. Hopefully you will see me win the joust before then, though.”
“Does it count as you winning or the horse? I have so many questions about jousting, but I will ask them later.”
“And I would be interested in hearing how one of the Manu came to live in the forest.”
“I’m hoping to figure that out, actually. Hopefully later this evening I’ll have some answers for you,” Tric responds in his light-hearted joking manner. He is telling the complete truth for once, though she may just take it as another jest.